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The Milton Colosseum, Cowcaddens Cross, Glasgow

Later - The Prince of Wales Theatre / The Grand Theatre / New Grand Picture House

See Also - R. C. Buchanan - The man who tried to buy Howard & Wyndham

Glasgow Index

 

In the 1860s the Hall within the Milton Arcade at Cowcaddens Cross was operated by James Baylis as the Milton Colosseum Concert Hall. In its advertising he offered "popular prices, good companies, and temperance refreshments." Under his own ownership he also built the new Scotia Hall, Stockwell Street and the new Theatre Royal complex at the head of Hope Street which he first named the Royal Colosseum & Opera House. When Baylis's lease of the Milton Colosseum expired his landlord Mr Hannay took over and built on its site the Prince of Wales Theatre, designed by the architect William Spence (architect of the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street) opening it in August 1867. It held 3,000 people and staged variety, pantomime and melodrama, but was rebuilt in 1869, after a fire, with the help of a loan from James Thomson, shipbuilder and engineer.

A Programme Cover for a pantomime entitled 'Mr. Robert Roy, Heilan Helen, his wife, Dougal The Dodger' at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cowcaddens in 1880/1881, shortly before the Theatre was rebuilt as the Grand Theatre - Courtesy Graeme Smith

Above - A Programme Cover for a pantomime entitled 'Mr. Robert Roy, Heilan Helen, his wife, Dougal The Dodger' at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cowcaddens in 1880/1881, shortly before the Theatre was rebuilt as the Grand Theatre - Courtesy Graeme Smith To see another programme for the Prince of Wales Theatre Click here.

The Building News and Engineering Journal carried a piece on the Prince of Wales Theatre shortly after it had first opened, in their September the 13th 1867 edition, which read:- 'Your 'London readers will probably be surprised to learn that the Prince of Wales is but the second theatre for "the second city in the empire," and that there are thus only two temples of the drama for half a million of a population. This further accommodation for Glasgow playgoers embraces a pit and two galleries. In the pit, which is 72ft. 9in. by 73ft., the seats are arranged circularly, radiating from the orchestra; the galleries are upon the "horse-shoe" plan, and the lower is designed for "the upper ten," and the upper for "the lower orders." The pit will contain about 2,000 people easily, and the galleries about the same number. The proscenium is 33ft. wide and 40ft. high; the depth, from the footlights to "the last scene of all" is 36ft., which, however, can be easily increased, if necessary; and for the working of the scenes and mechanism there is available a space of lift below the stage and 50ft. above it. The ventilation is effected by a sun-light and air shafts. Of the decoration of the house little can be said in the meantime; but there are two very important matters in the planning of a theatre, for Mr. Spence's care of which in this, as in other similar buildings from his pencil, he is entitled to very great credit - the ample means of exit from all parts of the house, and the excellent view of the stage enjoyed from every seat.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, September the 13th 1867.

In 1881 the Theatre was rebuilt as the GRAND THEATRE accommodating 2,000 people and presented seasons of opera, plays and pantomime. The ERA, published a report on the rebuilding in their 17th of September 1881 edition saying:- 'The Grand Theatre, which, as everybody who takes an interest in things theatrical knows, is the new name of the old Prince of Wales, its now almost ready for the opening on Monday Night.

It is not only in its name that the house has lost its personality as it has been known to the people of Glasgow, but in its internal arrangement and fittings it has also lost its identity. Under its former name the house had somewhat of a chequered career, which was due, perhaps, to a combination of circumstances. With a new name, however, and under a spirited and judicious Management, there seems to be no reason why the establishment should not take its proper place in the good graces of the public. Than the Grand Theatre there are few places better adapted for a playhouse.

Photograph of the Auditorium of the Grand Theatre, Cowcaddens Cross, Glasgow, built on the site of the former Milton Colosseum and Prince of Wales Theatre - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - A Photograph of the Auditorium of the Grand Theatre, Cowcaddens Cross, Glasgow, built on the site of the former Milton Colosseum and Prince of Wales Theatre - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The arrangement of its auditorium is perfect, and it has all the accessories which go to enhance the comfort and pleasure of the audience. All these the house, in a greater or less degree, always had; but under the superintendence of Mr T. W. Charles, the new Lessee, such a transformation has been wrought upon the inside of the building that the first idea that strikes the visitor to it now is how it comes about that so magnificent a Theatre has been allowed for so long to lie out of use. From floor to ceiling the house has been entirely rearranged, redecorated, and upholstered.

In front of the orchestral stalls a very pleasing feature has been introduced in the form of a finely got-up bank of artificial flowers and living ferns, which imparts a delightful sweetness and freshness to the scene. The stalls have been exquisitely finished in silk repp and lace, and their appearance is altogether most pleasant and attractive. Immediately behind the stalls is the pit. In this part of the house the greatest care has boon taken to secure the comfort of the audience, the seats being amply spaced, and cushioned in a manner such as few Theatres indeed can equal. Considering the accommodation given, and the popular price that will be charged, the pit is sure to be one of the best patronised portions of the house.

The first tier is divided into the balcony, stalls, and the dress circle, the former occupying the first three rows of seats, and the latter the seats immediately behind on either side. The private boxes are situated behind the balcony stalls. The elaborate decoration and furnishing of this section of the auditorium can scarcely be well described. It is draped with the richest curtains and lace, which, with the gold ornamentation on the walls, form an exceedingly luxurious and at the same time chaste and elegant combination.

The second tier is devoted entirely to the family circle, and it also is tastefully furnished and decorated. This is sure to be another exceedingly popular part of the house. The gallery occupies the whole of the third tier. Here the utmost care has been exercised in making everything as its should be for the convenience and comfort of its occupants.

In connection with each of the parts of the house there are a variety of cloak-rooms, waiting-rooms, and lavatories, while provision has also been made for gentlemen who may wish to smoke, in the shape of a spacious room specially set apart for this purpose. For this and several other additions that have been made to the establishment, accommodation has been found in the properties adjoining the Theatre, which have been drawn upon to a very considerable extent. One of the most important of these additions is a new crush-room in connection with the orchestral stalls. It is a handsome apartment of great length and breadth, and is fitted up in a style in every respect in keeping with the general fittings of the house.

To the lighting of the Theatre the greatest attention has been paid. In the sunlight, which is situated in the centre of a magnificently painted roof, on which are represented the four seasons, there are no fewer than six hundred jets, while for the lighting of the entrances and throughout the interior of the house generally there are upwards of 120 burners. These latter are supplied from an independent source from that of the sunlight, so that should any accident occur to one source of supply the house would still remain lighted by the other. The advantage of such an arrangement as this in preventing a panic is at once apparent.

In regard to the stage and its appointments, it is scarcely necessary to say more than that the work has been intrusted to able hands, and has been ably carried out. The stage measures 87ft. in depth by 78ft. in breadth. For the effective lighting of this enormous space the almost incredible number of 4,500 gas jets will be employed. These, as is also the case with the sunlight, are arranged upon the self-lighting principle, by which the whole of them can be put into operation simultaneously. The latest improvements have been adopted in the construction of the complicated machinery necessary for the proper conduct of the work behind the scenes.

To no part of the reconstruction of the building has greater attention been paid than to the means of entrance and egress. In addition to all the former entrances, several new ones have been made. One of these will be used solely for the stalls and private boxes. The stairs, it should be mentioned, are of stone, and are built between fire-proof walls. All the passages and stairs are of great width, and afford the amplest room for the exit of large crowds of people, a very few minutes being all the time that would be required to clear the entire house of its occupants should there be occasion for so speedy an exodus.

The operations in connection with the remodelling of the Theatre have been executed by the following tradesmen and others:- The interior structural alterations by Mr Whiting; new stall entrance by Mr Hutchinson, from the plans of Mr Dalgleish, architect, Glasgow; figure painting by Mr Ballard, London; decorations and modelling by Mr W. Jones, from the drawings of Mr Harry Potts, Nottingham; new stage, laid by Mr Whiting; upholstery and carpeting by Messrs Copland and Lye, Glasgow; chandelier, gas-fittings, and stage lights by Messrs Banks and Pickard, on the self-lighting principle of Tollerton, Leeds; new float-lights by Mr R. Owen; new bracket lamps and crystals by Messrs Cooper and Co., Glasgow; statuary, artificial plants, and flowers by Messrs Shoolbred and Co., London; decorative wall paper by Messrs Marshall, Nottingham; curtains and silk hangings by Messrs Jackson and Graham, London; new act-drop by Mr Harry Potts; and the entirely new scenery by Mr Harry Potts, Mr Groom, Mr Edmund Swift, and Mons. Canvas.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 17th of September 1881.

The Theatre reopened as the GRAND THEATRE on Monday the 19th of September 1881 and would go on to present seasons of opera, plays and pantomime. The Carl Rosa Opera Company became frequent visitors.

To see a programme for the Grand Theatre Click here. There are also some photographs of the Theatre's exterior here.

In 1903 R. C. Buchanan joined forces in the city with the Grand Theatre & Opera House with Ernest Stevens who was its sole proprietor and former lessee.

The Glasgow Herald's Sports Supplement of the 28th May 2008 mentioned that:- 'in April 1908 the theatre staged the Scottish Amateur Boxing Championships which was a 14 hour marathon watched by 2,000 people. One of its winners went on to win a boxing medal at the first London Olympics the same year.'

During World War I the Theatre changed to cine-variety and was rebuilt in 1919 after a fire. Renamed the New Grand Picture House it was renovated in the moderne style in 1926, finally closing in 1959.

The above article on the Grand Theatre, Glasgow was written by Graeme Smith (with additions by M.L.) and kindly sent in for inclusion on the site in 2008, and is in part from Graeme's book 'THE THEATRE ROYAL: Entertaining a Nation', Details here.

 

R. C. Buchanan

The man who tried to buy Howard & Wyndham

By Graeme Smith

Robert C Buchanan from a cartoon in The Bailie Magazine - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Robert C. Buchanan was not his real name. He was Robert Colburn, born in 1870 in Shettleston, near Glasgow, the son of a boilermaker. At age 16 he added the surname “Buchanan” and became a comedy actor with a number of touring companies and a playwright, for a time based in Lancashire. In the 1890s he became a stage manager for Howard & Wyndham at the Royalty Theatre, Glasgow and later at the Athenaeum, Glasgow (today`s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland). He was also a stock actor with theatre impresario Richard Waldon, whose main theatre was the Royal Princess`s now known as the Citizens`. Buchanan set up home in Berkeley Street near today`s Mitchell Library and taught elocution and drama from his house. He became Professor of Elocution at the Athenaeum in 1894, in succession to Henry Talbot. From time to time he presented concerts in outlying districts and towns comprising “dramatic, elocutionary, and musical entertainment” usually by a contralto, violinist, pianist, and a lady elocutionist who also joined with Buchanan in comedietta and prose.

Right - Robert C Buchanan from a cartoon in The Bailie Magazine - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

In 1903 he left the Athenaeum and joined forces in the city with the Grand Theatre & Opera House, Cowcaddens, (on the site of James Baylis`s Milton Colosseum Music Hall) with Ernest Stevens who was its sole proprietor (and former lessee). Both men were already linked with George and Richard McCulloch, heads of an accounting firm based in West Regent Street, Glasgow specialising in the promotion and construction of theatres via their Regent Property and Assets Company Ltd. That same year, 1903, Buchanan and Stevens - who in 1899 had opened the Lyceum Theatre, Govan, Glasgow in a partnership (of four years) with Richard Waldon - created a new company based in the city to buy the Grand, with Ernest Stevens as chairman and Buchanan as managing director. It duly bought the Grand and Buchanan actively promoted a group he named “Scotland`s Provincial Theatres” which would take over the management of a number of existing venues in Ayr, Clydebank, Coatbridge, Dundee, Leith and elsewhere, and at the same time work in conjunction with independent theatres such as the Metropole, Glasgow - controlled by Arthur S. Jefferson (father of Stan Laurel) - and the Royal Princess`s, Glasgow - controlled by Richard Waldon – to share shows. Shows were also presented in England.

From around 1900 to 1906 – during the prosperous Edwardian era and huge growth of new places of entertainment - Stevens and R. C. Buchanan helped create some seven new theatres, using prominent architects and the site assembly and project firm of Regent Property & Assets Co Ltd who engaged local contractors as required. The theatres, while in construction, were then sold by public share issues to local shareholders, and under Buchanan`s direction – usually giving him a five year contract - they variously staged variety, drama, opera, musicals and pantomime. All of the developments, new and existing, were in medium-size towns with one exception, the King`s Theatre, Edinburgh. Some soon became cinemas. Buchanan himself became a frequent attender at some courts to defend actions by contractors and performers because of bills not being paid.

An R. C. Buchanan Letterhead from 1905 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - An R. C. Buchanan Letterhead from 1905 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

A Sketch of the New Century Theatre, Motherwell - The first Theatre Buchanan oversaw as a new build - Courtesy Graeme Smith.In order of their opening the new theatres were - in December 1901 the New Century Theatre, Windmillhill Street, Motherwell (shown right) designed by Hamilton architect Alex Cullen, the proprietor and original promoter being Major R Howard of Hamilton and Glasgow. It seated 1,500 people. (In 1913 it became a cinema, being restyled substantially in the 1930s to become the Rex Cinema); in 1903 the Falkirk Grand, designed by Alex Cullen; in 1904 the King`s Theatre, Kirkcaldy, designed by J. D. Swanston and also the King`s Theatre, Kilmarnock, designed by Alex Cullen; in 1905 the Alexandra (later King`s) Theatre, Greenock designed by Boston, Menzies & Morton of Greenock with Alex Cullen as a consultant; the King`s Theatre, Sunderland in 1906, and finally the King`s Theatre, Edinburgh, designed by J. D. Swanston. All were No.2 theatres, with the exception of the King`s Theatre Edinburgh which was a No.1 theatre.

Right - A Sketch of the New Century Theatre, Motherwell - The first Theatre Buchanan oversaw as a new build - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

He chaired a firm called Edinburgh Construction Co Ltd to build the King`s Theatre there, which it did in 1906. He made himself managing director and arranged its variety bill of fare. Buchanan and the shareholders continued to have difficulty raising the second half of the money to pay the builders W. S. Cruikshank & Sons. The builder`s son, A. Stewart Cruikshank, was interested in theatre business and became manager to Buchanan, no doubt keeping an eye on the building!

In 1907 Cruikshank joined the Northern Theatres Investment Co Ltd, which was another Buchanan invention involving also Ernest Stevens once of the Grand Theatre, Glasgow and Robert Stevens of the Marlborough Theatre, London, whose purposes were “to take over the King`s, Edinburgh, The Grand, Glasgow, Howard & Wyndham theatres and other properties.” Buchanan and his colleagues tabled a takeover bid for all of Howard & Wyndham Ltd for £160,000 but did not have the money to back it up.

In February 1908 the Edinburgh Construction Company made its last attempt to find money. It offered their Edinburgh King`s Theatre to Howard & Wyndham Ltd for £35,000. That group, chaired by Michael Simons of Glasgow declined the offer, he already had two theatres in Edinburgh. The next month the Edinburgh firm was reorganised with the Cruikshank family taking majority ownership of it in June and running it by themselves, dispensing with Buchanan`s services. A. Stewart Cruikshank worked his way up, and two decades later became the head of Howard & Wyndham Ltd, expanding it to be the largest group of drama theatres in Britain, and director of many combines including Moss Empires Ltd., and H. M. Tennent Ltd – in which he held the largest shareholding – and crowning his career as one of the handful of doyens who controlled and directed British theatre.

During and after the Great War R. C. Buchanan concentrated on promoting cinema. For six years he was an elected councillor in Edinburgh, where he passed on in 1935. Today in the Royal Conservatoire there is still awarded an annual prize, with a modest sum attached, started by its donor, the R. C. Buchanan Prize for Diction.

The above article on Robert C. Buchanan was written by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion on the site in 2014.

 

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